Review by WinegumZero
"A comeback of angelic proportions, but not without some minor flaws"
After 25 years of hardly any recognition and a surprise appearance in Super Smash Bros Brawl Pit is finally back to blow everyone away with epic battles and pop culture references, oh and a card game. Kid Icarus Uprising is the latest installment of the series that started on the NES and aims to reinvigorate the franchise through a complete genre overhaul. What started out as a simple platformer now combines rail-shooting with third-person shooting, well not really combines, more like offers two completely different playstyles in one game. While this may sound fragmented and chaotic, Kid Icarus Uprising actually provides a wonderfully solid and fun gaming experience.
Aside from the aforementioned split, the game consists of two main modes: Solo, the storyline, and Together, which is online mode, which will be discussed later on in the review. Solo mode consists basically of two different genres. The first half of a level consists of a Sin & Punishment-esque rail shooter where the player is guided through a set course, battling enemies and avoiding obstacles along the way. This initial course works surprisingly well: players are guided through beautiful sceneries and hectic battles before diving into the core game. Another well-implemented feature of these levels is the amount of planning: the musical score matches seemlessly with the action on screen and when exposition is required the action stymies to avoid having to focus on either listening to the plot or not getting your angel butt handed to you.
After five minutes of flying the action transitions from rail-shooting to the Land-based 3rd-person-shooter, and the core gameplay completely changes. Players are now in full control of Pit as they guide him through a more traditional action game level. This sudden shift may seem daunting at first, but it actually transitions fairly well. What doesn't transition fairly well initially is the much-debated control scheme: in the flying segments where you didn't have to focus on guiding Pit, just avoiding and shooting, it was relatively easy to stay in control. The Land mode loses that control somewhat, as now you have to use the touch screen to aim the reticle and control the camera in a style reminiscent of Metroid Prime: Hunters. Especially during more hectic battles it becomes increasingly difficult to stay focused on your target. This flaw can be overcome with a few hours of practice, but does create a somewhat unnatural learning curve. To try and make up for this full control customization has been provided in the options, including different pre-set control schemes. None, however, really fix the initial problem. Clunky initial controls aside, the Land-based segment of the game keeps the visual quality high and the action even higher. The different chapters, of which there are plenty, are all varied in location and highly enjoyable, with personal zeniths being the retro-themed Pandora level and the Space Pirate ship. In overall the storyline creates a strange balance between epic battles and whimsical dialogue that relies on non sequitors and anachronisms to provide humour. While there are moments where the constant banter is incredibly cheesy and distracting it does provide a refreshing change of pace when compared to the normally extremely serious nature of video game dialogue, not to mention the fact that some of the dialogue is genuinely funny.
Customization comes from an incredibly diverse set of weapons and skills, the latter of which is somewhat inspired by a panel system as found in Kingdom Hearts 358:2 Days. The 9 different weapon categories offer a balanced choice of different playstyles, but may seem a little too extensive at first. Like the control scheme it takes time to figure out which weapon category works best for which situation, but the game never provides a tutorial that explains the pros and cons of different weapons. Players can try out different weapons in a small simulation but the rest is up to experience, further complicating the initial learning curve. Once overcome though it doesn't take long to notice that the weapon system is incredibly diverse: weapons can be bought or fused which transitions certain abilities into the fused weapon making almost every weapon unique, even if they are of the same type. The weapons obtained in single player can be used in multiplayer, giving players a nice incentive to complete the storyline.
The final important feature of the single player mode is the flexible difficulty in the shape of the ingenious Fiend's Cauldron: before starting a level players can choose at what intensity they want to play. The higher the intensity the bigger the risk but the bigger the reward. It's a simple system but wonderfully elegant in execution. Players can customize their difficulty level to a comfortable and precise degree and reap the rewards that come with that difficulty. Another plus is that the higher intensity levels are truly a challenge even for a seasoned veteran, something that most Nintendo games have been missing these last few years.
Online mode basically uses all the mechanics of Solo Ground mode. Players can choose between Light vs. Dark (team battle) and Free-For-All. Combat is hectic and reminiscent of games like Power Stone and Super Smash Bros. Nevertheless it provides a great in-depth battle platform that takes full advantage of Nintendo's new Network. Lag, while still somewhat present, is not as potentially game-crippling as it was in Brawl. The only disadvantage is that while Single Player is incredibly fleshed out Multiplayer lacks other battle modes that have been long staples in other online multiplayer games. There are only two game modes, no Capture The Flag (or whatever the Greek version of that would be) or even the opportunity to practice againts bots, causing some frustration as you first start online gaming against people who have had more time to practice.
With every copy of Kid Icarus Uprising comes two minor perks that are basically meaningless. The first is the 3DS stand, developed to combat the overall stress the controls might induce on player's hands. While complaining about free stuff is usually not the smartest move, the 3DS stand really doesn't add enough to the overall experience to be relevant. While you don't have physically lift the 3DS anymore with the stand, the thing itself gets in the way of the hand-held experience, particularly during chaotic segments where rapid pressing of the L-Button is necessary. The second bonus is the AR Card system: every game comes with 6 cards that can be scanned on your 3DS and used in battles. This simplistic idea would work great on a game like Pokemon where collecting and battling is the core of the gaming experience, but in a game like Kid Icarus Uprising, where there already is a fleshed out core gameplay, the AR battles feel tacked on and completely lacklustre. The player has no input in the card battles and the animations are both simplistic and boring to watch. While it is nice of Nintendo to include these two add-ons for free with every copy, neither really demonstrate any reason for existing and add virtually nothing to the actual game. In a game where everything feels so incredibly polished and in-depth, these two features feel tacked on and pretty much obsolete.
In overall, Kid Icarus Uprising, like Super Smash Bros Brawl, illustrates how important a little extra shine to the presentation of the game is. Everything looks extremely polished and meticulously crafted and it adds to the level of immersion. What however detracts from the experience is the minor flaws that accentuate the difficulty spike: the awkward controls, immense weapon choice (not that this is a bad thing, it just complicates the experience in the beginning) and lack of practice options. Gamers might be discouraged to keep playing because of these flaws, but if they're willing to stomach it and see through the initial spike Kid Icarus Uprising provides an extremely solid, vast and epic gaming experience, both in its offline and online modes.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/27/12
Game Release: Kid Icarus: Uprising (EU, 03/23/12)
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